Jack the Ripper: The Last Of His Kind

jackThe streets are cold in London in October, and the nights are long and empty. In November the rains come, with a chilly wind off the Thames River. Only the poor are out and about, searching for the few pennies they need to buy shelter and food. The people of Whitechapel held their breath and waited for the terror that walked among them. They didn’t wait long.

On November 9th, at about 11:45 pm, Mary Jane Kelly was very drunk and singing “Only a Violet I Plucked from my Mother’s Grave.” She was with a man, walking back to her room at #13 Miller’s Court. A witness described him as stout and shabbily dressed. At 1:00 am, Mary Jane was still singing but soon stopped. At approximately 2:30 am Kelly was seen on the street with another man (or the same one) going back to her room at #13. The witness, George Hutchison, claimed he had briefly talked to Kelly a couple of minutes earlier. At 3:00 am, Mary Ann Cox, a neighbour at #5, returned home and later testified there was no sound or light coming from Mary Kelly’s room. At approximately 10:45 the next morning, John McCarthy, the lodging-house keeper, sent his assistant Thomas Bowyer, to “Go to #13 and try and get some rent.” Bowyer knocked at the door, and when he didn’t get an answer, went round to the window and put his hand through the broken pane and pushed back the old coat that served as a curtain. Mary Jane Kelly was dead. She had literally been chopped to pieces, and according to the autopsy, “the heart was absent.”

In their briefest form, these are the tales of the five Jack the Ripper murders. There are hundreds more stories, facts and clues. There are eyewitness accounts, police records and detailed autopsy reports. There has been enough information collected over the last century to fuel a whole industry – Ripperology. There are literally hundreds of theories. There’s the Masonic Theory – some sort of cover-up by the police members of the Masonic order. There’s the Jewish Theory – a blood sacrifice from some demented sect. There’s Leather Apron, a butcher gone mad, and Doctor Ripper, an insane surgeon. There’s even a theory that there was no Jack the Ripper at all: her name was Jill, and she was a deranged midwife. Over the years, many prominent Victorians have been accused of being Jack the Ripper. Those theories have reached even into the royal family and convicted the Duke of Clarence, Queen Victoria’s grandson, second in line to the British throne. Each of these theories comes complete with a written article or book, claiming to solve the mystery. Each one carefully documents the evidence; each one builds its case, and each one comes to its own conclusion. But each one unravels far faster than it was ever put together. Why? Too many things don’t fit; too many things are odd. There are too many coincidences, and too many “facts” are in conflict with what we know to be true. There are just too many impossibilities.

Mary Ann Nichols and Annie Chapman were both killed and mutilated in less than 30 minutes — in the dark – and jack1Chapman was killed on a busy thoroughfare on a Market Day morning. Catherine Eddowes was killed and her kidney surgically removed in less than 15 minutes! – once again, in the dark. One murder under these circumstances is possible; two, maybe. But three go beyond the realm of belief. On September 30th, 1888, how did Jack the Ripper commit murder, travel some distance through tangled streets and alleys, commit murder again and escape both times – unseen? It’s possible, but highly unlikely. Each killing is possible individually, but taken together – five? In the open streets of Whitechapel? That’s pretty far-fetched — especially since, after the first murder of Mary Ann Nichols, the entire community was on alert, watching, including several vigilante groups.

The only murder that has any logical explanation is that of Mary Jane Kelly, who was killed in her room. But there is evidence that Mary Jane Kelly wasn’t even killed. Caroline Maxwell, of #14 Dorset, testified that she saw Mary Jane Kelly in front of Miller’s Court at 8:30 that morning and stopped and talked with her. Maxwell also testified that she saw Kelly again at 9:00 am, outside the Britannia Pub. Maurice Lewis testified that, at 10:00 am, he went into the Britannia Pub and saw Kelly inside, talking and drinking with some other people. These two independent testimonies cite the same pub; could two different people be so specific and so wrong? In another weird twist, Catherine Eddowes identified herself as Mary Jane Kelly when she left Bishopsgate police station. Why? Another coincidence? Perhaps, but how can there be so many? For example, all of the victims had sort of drifted into Whitechapel at around the same time. Nichols, Eddoes and Stride had all lived on Flower and Dean Street, within a few doors of each other. Their lives and habits were centered around Dorset, a short street off Commercial. They all frequented the Horn of Plenty and the Britannia Pubs and they all worked the streets of the area as prostitutes when they had to. Yet, there is no evidence that they even knew each other – although that doesn’t seem possible in a crowded, poor community. And there’s more, much more – including the Goulston Street graffiti and of course the letters. Each coincidence is possible, but, like the murders themselves, not all of them. The laws of anti-chance alone forbid it.

So, even with only our cursory examination we can come to the same conclusion that every Ripper investigator has come to since the murders themselves. Some hideous evil stalked the streets of Whitechapel, London in the autumn of 1888. It killed women and then it stopped killing them. That’s it. There is nothing else. The mountain of evidence is so strange and contradictory that we cannot glean anything further from it – except, perhaps, that the murders could not possibly have happened the way they did. The amount of coincidence, happenstance and odd occurrence strains even the willing suspension of disbelief. No fiction could have been written so wildly. And the monster that called himself Jack the Ripper will remain anonymous, forever lurking in the shadows of time and the cold dark soul of our 4 o’clock in the morning.

This is why we remember Jack the Ripper. He is the last resident of Evil. In our calm, clean, well-lighted world, we rehabilitate our criminals and sanitize our villains. We give them names and parents. We seek their motivation and try to understand their desperate minds. We hold them to be one of us, tricked, by the very society that condemns them, into performing hideous acts. Our world has no room for monsters, or fiends or the tortures of Hell. But Jack the Ripper defies us all by his very existence. In 2006, the BBC produced a documentary about Jack the Ripper. They used modern techniques of forensics, like geo-profiling and computer enhanced facial construction to reassess the 120-year-old crimes. They found that Jack the Ripper was an ordinary fellow who probably lived on Flower and Dean Street. He probably worked at a menial job and drank his gin at one of the pubs. They even produced a face. But Jack the Ripper will have none of this. He has no name, no family, no childhood, no face. No amount of empathy or good intentions can ever wash the blood from his hands. He alone still lives with the demons – and laughs — the last of his kind.

Jack The Ripper: Where Nightmares Come From

jackOn chilly dark evenings, footsteps still echo in the Whitechapel district of London. Sometimes, if there’s a mist, you can hear them making their muffled way in the night. They are ghosts of sounds, travelling through time from their far away shadows. They live in our minds, where the light is dim and uneven. It flutters close to our eyes. The smooth stones at our feet slip away from us, and we step slowly. The streets are slender and the walls are high. They turn and fade with long shadows of shapes of people that move like silence in the night. There are corners and alleys too deep for us to see them…black shades…they are only sounds of voices that have no words. There are faces. We are among them. They move past us without features. Just seen and then gone. We cannot be sure of what we see. Our senses are tricked by the dark and the night.

This is the half-light world of the East End of Victorian London. It’s a world we’ve never seen and can only imagine. It’s crowded and dirty and smells like rotten food and unwashed people. It’s a place that’s greasy and old, with narrow walkways and sputtering gaslight, shaded faces and shiny hands. Too many people and not enough money, it has shallow, gasping breath and it coughs dry and alone in the night. It’s a place where nightmares are made, and, in 1888, it made one. It called itself Jack the Ripper.

For a few months in 1888, Jack the Ripper stalked the dim streets of Whitechapel. Forever after, he walks in our collective memory. His name is synonymous with evil. He is that thing we look over our shoulders for, on lonely nights. He is the horror we can’t talk our way out of.

Jack the Ripper was not the first serial killer, nor the most prolific, nor even the most hideous (although that is a relative term) but he is the most remembered. People who know nothing about history, crime or violence still recognize his name. Given what we now know about serial killers and their motivation, he would be quite pleased to know that he’s been so famous for so long. He might even laugh.

So what is the fascination? Why do we still fear him? How did Jack the Ripper creep into our subconscious and why is he still hiding there? Even Count Dracula, a Victorian horror in his own right, doesn’t hold that kind of power. Why Jack the Ripper, and what did he do to all of us on those chilly, dark evenings in Whitechapel?

It was on such a night, August 31st, 1888 that Mary Ann Nichols walked down Whitechapel Road. She stopped outside ajack1 grocer’s on Osborne Street to talk with Emily Holland, who had once shared rooms with her. The Whitechapel Church bell struck the half hour; it was 2:30 am. At 3:15, Constable John Thain passed the entrance to Buck’s Row and Constable John Neil walked down into the little street. There was nothing unusual. At 3:45, Charles Cross and Robert Paul entered Buck’s Row on their way to work. They found the body of a woman, lying in the street. They thought she might still be alive so they went off to find a policeman. Constable Neil was continuing his rounds, and, within a few seconds of Cross and Paul’s leaving he entered Buck’s Row and also found the woman. She was Mary Ann Nichols, the first victim of Jack the Ripper.

At the inquest, it was revealed that Nichols’ throat had been cut — twice — from left to right, and the mutilation of her body had been done by a left-handed man — a very experienced left-handed man. The wounds were precise and death was immediate. Also, it was revealed that earlier, Nichols had been thrown out of her lodgings, because she had no money. This was not unusual. It was also stated that she had been drinking heavily and had gone “out” with a couple of men to get some money for more drink and to pay for a room for the night. This, also, was not unusual. Mary Ann Nichols was only one of many women, who, for a few pennies, would accompany a strange man into one of the dark corners of WhiteChapel, East End, London.

Eight days later, on Saturday, September 8th, at about 5:30 am, Elizabeth Long was walking down Hanbury Street. She noticed a woman she knew, Annie Chapman, but did not stop and talk to her. At approximately 6:00 am, less than a half hour later, John Davis left his room at #29 Hanbury St., probably to use the outdoor toilet. In a shallow recess by the door he discovered the body of a woman. It was Annie Chapman.

At the inquest, Elizabeth Long testified that she had been on her way to Spitalfields Market — Saturday was Market day – and that the streets were crowded. She also stated, that when she saw Annie Chapman, she was standing in front of #29 Hanbury St., talking to a man. She didn’t see his face, but she described him as about 40, wearing a dark coat and a deerstalker’s cap. She also said he had a shabby-genteel appearance and that he was only slightly taller than Chapman who was about 5 feet tall. John Davis testified that, before he discovered the body, there had been nothing unusual about that morning, and he did not see or hear anything. Each of the other 17 occupants of #29 said exactly the same thing. The yard where the body was found was about 12 feet square and there was only one exit – back onto the street. Annie Chapman’s throat had been cut from left to right, she had been horribly mutilated and part of her uterus had been removed. All of this took place in the dim light of morning — on a crowded London Street — in less than 30 minutes! And nobody saw or heard anything.

Tuesday: Jack The Ripper: Letters From Hell

The Cause and Cure for the London Riots

It’s time to put on your big boots, folks.  As the riots in Britain die down, everybody and his friend is busy telling us what really caused them.  An awful lot of equine feces is being tossed about; you don’t want to step in any of it.  Even as I write this, journalists and politicos are rounding up the usual suspects and sentencing them — without trial.  Apparently, society was the big ring leader… again — and its lieutenants, poverty, unemployment and government cutbacks were also in on it.  Young people were the innocent victims … again, pushed to the breaking point of violence by their disadvantages, the police and some guy in Earl’s Court with a steady job.  It’s all quite simple.  Community organizers and activists have been telling us for years we need to give these people more money or something like this was bound to happen.  It’s kinda like paying Tony Soprano so his boys don’t come around after dark and burn down your store.  Extortion is such a hard word, so let’s just call it investing in the future.

For the last fifty years or so, society has been investing in the future under the quaint idea that disadvantaged people are somehow different from the rest of us.  Contemporary mythology has it that poverty and unemployment are social ills caused by cold-blooded governments and the rank abuses of our money market society.  Anybody unfortunate enough to get trapped by this double whammy suddenly becomes helpless and stupid.  The popular assumption is that, without a battalion of social workers, organizers, services and institutions to direct their every move, the underprivileged have no hope of changing their circumstances.  Faced with our uncaring 21st century, even the most stalwart Horatio Alger character quivers in his shoes, drops out of school and turns to a life of indolence and maybe even drugs.  Society (that’s us, folks) is responsible for these unspecified crimes against the underprivileged and must, therefore, fork over great gobs of money — which for the last fifty years at least, has never been enough.  So goes the prevailing wisdom of our time, perpetrated by a crowd of social commentators who wouldn’t know poverty if it bit them on the bum.

Here’s the real deal.  Poverty is relentless.  No visiting newscast or YouTube sound byte can portray this.  It never takes a holiday.  It sleeps with you like an evil lover.  It seeps into your soul.  It feeds on your heart and sucks your energy until it consumes you.  It’s 25/8 ugly, and the only relief is sex, drugs and rock and rock.  I’m not talking about digging-in-a-dumpster poor – although I suppose the shoe fits.  I’m talking about people who just don’t have enough money – the Have-nots.  These are the people whose children flared out of control in a vomit of violence the other night that sickened even their neighbours.  These are poor people (I don’t care what the current euphemism is) and they exploded in London and elsewhere because they’re poor and we’ve been telling them for fifty years they’re getting screwed.

The current crop of social engineers view the poor as if they’re from another planet.  They theorize and chatter and then go back to their tidy tree-lined avenues and wonder what went wrong with “those people.”  It’s never occurred to them that “those people” want some tree-lined avenues, too.  Basically, the Have-nots want to be Haves.  Having established that point, let’s quit lying to ourselves and others and face the fact that there’s only one combination in our world that leads to permanent “Have-dom.”  It’s pride, education and hard work.  There’s no government program, no social get-fixed-quick scheme and no secret formula.  It’s that simple.  It’s time to quit listening to the caring/sharing class and start applying some bold initiatives to our war on poverty.

There are too many programs to deal with, so let me just use the most notorious one, welfare, as an example.  In its current form, welfare is an implement of permanent debilitation.  Welfare benefits are usually at subsistence levels with no extra pennies available to even stock up on toilet paper when it goes on sale.  For long-term welfare recipients, it’s impossible to get ahead.  Then if they do manage to get a job — even a low-paying, part-time one — their benefits are cut.

This is exactly backwards.  Those benefits should be increased.  There should be a financial reward for pride and hard work, not a punishment.  It should work the same way for education; not idiot education like medieval dance, but quality job training.  Again, benefits should be increased to those willing to go to school – and graduate.  And this should apply across the board; families should receive extra benefits when teenage children do not drop out of school and lose them if they do.  There should be a definable series of financial rewards to anyone willing to help themselves.  Rewarding enterprising people is the way our society functions, and it functions the same for everybody – even the underclass. Yeah, some people are going to scam the system, but the majority won’t – and, by the way, society is paying the money anyway.

Permanently warehousing people in dilapidated neighbours with nothing to look forward to but more of the same hasn’t worked.  Crime, prostitution and drugs offer better financial rewards than poverty line welfare payments.  And the sickening by-product is shame and frustration.  The riots in London prove this.  We need to turn our attention away from forking out money for nothing to offering serious financial benefits to those who want to change their way of life.  If you’re not convinced, here’s one more thing to think about.  Those minor drug dealers who inhabit every poor neighbourhood on the planet are, in reality, just laissez-faire capitalists.  They understand how our world works.  In fact, they understand it a lot better than that army of social workers we’ve hired who can’t seem to figure it out — because they’ve never had to go without.